Drought predicted as El Nino takes hold
Significant rain is unlikely in North Otago in the next few months due to El Nino, hydrological consultant Dave Stewart says, and farmers are worried.
‘‘The El Nino is like one we had in 1998 when Palmerston was one day away from having to have water trucked down to help them,’’ Mr Stewart said.
He predicted dry weather and rain-less skies would continue through to March, as happened in 1998.
‘‘Chances are it’s going to get really dry and it will be declared a drought. The good thing is that drought-proofing has been done with irrigation, and the extension of the North Otago Irrigation Company scheme at Kakanui will be brilliant.’’
Light rain has fallen this month but far from enough to please North Otago Federated Farmers president Richard Strowger. He said things might green up but would soon be brown again, making it hard for sheep and beef farmers.
‘‘It’s been 12 months now without any significant rain; the subsoil is bone dry.
‘‘Farmers have things in place through to Christmas, but what happens after that is when the hard decisions will start happening.’’
Stock would have to leave the district which Mr Strowger said was not good for the local freezing works or economy.
‘‘It’s income leaving North Otago. It affects shearers, silage contractors — everyone is affected.’’
Mr Strowger said December was traditionally North Otago’s wettest month. If there was no heavy rain, however, winter feed crops would be at serious risk of
not being able to grow because of the absence of soil moisture.
North Otago Federated Farmers dairying spokesman Lyndon Strang said dry conditions were not impacting on those drawing irrigation water from major rivers such as
‘‘But anyone irrigating from the eastern rivers, such as the Shag and Kakanui — these guys are watching levels very carefully.’’
About 15% of the district’s dairy farmers draw water from the eastern rivers.
The next 12 months would be critical for dairy farmers who, like beef and sheep farmers, were enduring low payouts as well as dry conditions.
‘‘Banks have been quite supportive; most are working with their customers to get through and view it as a short-term blip,’’ Mr Strang said.
However, if dry conditions persisted, production levels dropped and prices stayed low, some farmers, especially those who converted to dairying in recent years and carried heavy debt, would be in financial trouble.
Mr Strang said this was deeply concerning.
‘‘You can handle one event but when you have two, low payouts and drought, it can be tough.
‘‘Most farmers want a $5.50-plus [payout] to be sustainable. We need something in the mid-to-high 5s — we don’t want the big yo-yo effect.’’
Last week, ASB dropped its farm-gate payout forecast to $4.60 per kilogram of milk-solids, from $5, which brought it in line with Fonterra’s forecast figure. At the same time, world dairy prices fell 7.9% at the Global-Dairy-Trade auction.
With all the pressures involved, Mr Strowger said farmers needed to be careful.
‘‘We [farmers] have the highest suicide rate in the country. Some deal with things better than others; some try to hold on and hope and pray.’’
He said a farmer might spend 10 years on a breeding programme and then have to kill the stock.
‘‘A life’s work could be killed.
We have not reached that stage yet but this is what could happen.’’